Hot Lake Springs – Revisited

Looking from the South, this view shows the older 1864 wooden structure, on the right, that burned down in 1934. A sprinkler system saved the newer brick structure that was built in 1908.

Back in 2001, I went with some relatives to sneak a visit to the old Hot Lake “sanatorium”. We explored it thoroughly and we were totally impressed by how cool it must have been — compared to what a mess it was. It was like a time capsule frozen in time. Towards the end of it’s prior life it was used as a nursing care facility but the demise was not graceful. I saw old unused equipment, wheelchairs, and even bedpans from 30 years ago. The roof had been leaking for years causing significant damage in some areas. Vandals were responsible for much of the disarray and physical damage, including breaking and looting marble tile from the restrooms. Many of the hallway floors and stairs were askew/warped in the main sections. Despite all this, one could see the historical quality of the place. Of particular interest to me was the old “surgery room”, lined in white tile, with a viewing area behind glass for people to study the skill of Dr. Phy. Some of the old equipment was actually still there! Hot Lake used to be called “The Mayo Clinic of the West”. Close to the the surgery room was the elevator, supposedly the first one in the western United States (I don’t really know how true that is). The 3rd floor was in the worst shape. We could see daylight through what was left of the roof. The 3rd floor East wing was really scary to walk through – torn up floors, exposed lath, and plaster everywhere on the floor. Plenty of water damage too. However the West wing was even worse because it appeared to structurally unsound, at least on the third floor, with sagging wood and warped doorways.

A year or two after this visit, we met Lee Manuel out in Joseph. We toured the Manuel bronze factory and Museum. Cool stuff! We had heard about the Manuels’ pending purchase of Hot Lake and we asked Lee about the idea of putting on the Night Fright haunted attraction out there. That didn’t fit into David an Lee’s vision and timeline for the place, nevertheless Lee was very gracious and friendly. We hoped for their success at Hot Lake.

Scale model for renovation

Several others have had the idea of restoring Hot Lake over the years but all attempts ended in failure. It was always: too big a project, too much money, too little vision, no viable business plan. Initially there seemed to be good community support for the Manuels’ attempt but it seemed to quickly taper off, at least on official levels. While many individuals have lent support and encouragement, the county hasn’t given it much attention, preferring to focus promotion on projects like the excursion train and the county golf course.

In a real sense, the Manuels’ and their extended family have had this project pretty much entirely on their own shoulders. David Manuel is a renowned bronze sculptor and artist – so that has been the primary income source for the project. Still, it’s kind of a miracle that they have been able to pull this off, with seven years of huge expenses in restoration (originally estimated at $22 million), no major renovation bank loan, and only minor sources of income from the building, other than the bronze foundry. In all fairness, there has been significant community support in terms of sponsorships and donations but I doubt it provides a very large percent of the total costs. By all rights the project should not have succeeded. What everyone failed to account for is Lee Manuel’s tremendous business skills and management abilities, plus her entire family’s determination to see the project through. Some key things have turned in their favor at the right time and some would say they’ve just been lucky. However, I don’t believe in that kind of luck and I am bold enough to say it: I believe that God has blessed them in the effort. The Manuel’s are spiritual religious people.

Bedroom suite restoration (2008)

After the Grande Opening in November of 2010, the available bed and breakfast suites are already booked up, and they are working on making more suites available. On New Years Eve, my wife Jeri and I ate at Hot Lake’s Magnoni’s Italian restaurent and were delighted with the meal and renewing our acquaintance with Lee Manuel. We then spent some time in the Crystal Theatre, toured the building (bringing back the memories of our very first visit) and were just astounded at the progress and many beautifully renovated rooms. We really enjoyed the amazing displays and bronzes in the lobby (The original lobby tile floor is repaired and still in place!) but we were the most amazed at the Museum: Wow! We had seen it in Joseph but it is bigger and more impressive now. During renovation, the interior of the West Wing was gutted so it could be restored. As mentioned earlier, most of the west wing interior was too deteriorated to restore “in situ” and so it had to be gutted first. Howevever, during this process, a big windstorm blew down the remaining brick walls, so the Manuel’s had to basically rebuild the West wing anew to house the museum. I think it turned out for the best because the design and layout is now perfect for the purpose.

The end story for Hot Lake Springs has not been written. In my opinion, as a reason for visitors to come to Union County, the newly opened Hot Lake Springs resort has the potential to be the #1 attraction in NE Oregon. There is just nothing else like it.

– Jay Mackley

David And Lee Manuel
Manuel Family
New Sign for Hot Lake Springs
Steam House after clean-up
Steam Houses during restoration (2008)
Front Balcony (2001)
Front Balcony restoration in progress
View from balcony
Vandalized bathroom (2001)
Typical room in 2001
Interior restoration
Interior restoration
Interior restoration (2008)
Hot Lake road sign – before
Hot Lake road sign – after
Original condition of entrance desk (2001)
Entrance desk restoration
Lee Manuel (2008)
David Manuel
Eagle bronze by David Manuel
David Manuel instructs in clay modeling
East Wing after cleanup (2008)
East Wing
New West wing replacement, after wind storm blows over original walls during reconstruction
Front veranda restoration (2008)
Surgery Observation Room (2001)
Surgery Observation Room (2008)
Surgery room after cleanup (2001)
surgery room during renovation (2008)
Bedroom Suite restoration (2008)
Bedroom Suite restoration (2008)
Bedroom Suite restoration (2008)
Bedroom Suite restoration (2008)